In 1991, I was a kid who lacked any real direction, ambition or zeal for life. I was the son of an alcoholic, was anything but the cool kid in school and just really didn’t want to be around people. I was awkward, scared and utterly withdrawn from everything. But everything changed in the fall of that year. I discovered the Star Trek universe.
I had the luck to meet John Ellison who was math teacher at Americus High School. I don’t remember the exact circumstances surrounding how we came to be friends other than he was friends with my cousin, Jimbo, who was a political science and history teacher at the same time. John was a sci-fi buff the likes of which I’d never seen before. He was into fandoms that I’d never heard of at the time. He enjoyed RPGs, Doctor Who, Star Wars and most of all, Star Trek. I was enamored with how much fun he seemed to have and how close all the students were who shared his fandom. I wanted to know more, so I started staying after school and hanging out with these folks.
Pretty soon, I was playing Starfleet Battles RPG, collecting memorabilia and getting involved deep in the world that was Trek. I often made my own Star Trek props to play around with because I was in a family that didn’t have much money for things like that. Often, I could have just as much fun creating my own communicator out of cardboard and duct tape and a uniform that suited my imagination out of old clothes. In this reality, I found acceptance, focus, and something to aspire to through the stories that were told in the original series (TOS) and The Next Generation (TNG).
Because of my fondness of working with computers at the time, as well as tearing things apart and putting them back together, I began to identify with Enterprise chief engineer, Montgomery Scott. Scotty seemed to touch every part of me that existed deep in my subconscious, aching to get out. I hooked into that character and honed in my scottish accent pretty well so that I sounded very close to Jimmy Doohan, the actor who played Scotty for 39 years. Even in my 40s, I still admire the character as well as the actor.
Jimmy used to tell a story about a young lady who was also a Doohan and Star Trek fan, whom he received a fan letter from a girl who was very near the point of committing suicide. According to the story, Jimmy called her up and and met her at several conventions, forging a friendship with her. Years later, she would get her masters degree in electrical engineering. (If you would like to hear the story, it’s on YouTube).
In addition to the heart that the actors brought to the universe, the stories were well done and had a point, all of them. Even the movie stories had deep meaning. The Original Series touched on race relations, political tensions, you name it. There’s a meme that says, “everything I learned about life, I learned from Star Trek.” For me and my existence, it’s true. Because of that truth, I find that I’m very disappointed in the direction that Star Trek has taken since 2009.
As I write this, I’ve just gotten home from the movie theater where I watched Star Trek: Beyond, which is the latest installment from what is called the “Kelvin” timeline. For those of us who are die-hard Trekkies, we call it “JJ-Trek” after the current executive producer of the film franchise, J.J. Abrams. When you watch the newest movies since 2009, it’s very obvious to see that Paramount has dispensed with great story telling and heartfelt acting in the name of making money. The original creator of Star Trek had a Utopian vision of the future. Paramount Pictures on the other hand, has a vision of return on an investment. With each movie, I am left feeling more and more like the Star Trek that shaped me as a young boy and young adult is long dead. Gone are the stories that touch on political polarization. Gone are the plot lines that leave you on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen to the universe as a result of the plot device that has been employed. It makes me truly sad.
Since 2003, there has been a proliferation of fan-made productions which have done a great job of recapturing the Star Trek of years gone by. But, Paramount is starting to crack down on those too through lawsuits and continued poorly made movies. I’m fairly certain that pretty soon, the Trek that I have come know know and love over the last 25 years will be long gone, quashed by executives desires to just make money and not leave the world a better place than they found it.
Tonight, I’m sad. Very very sad. I’m sad that I’ll never be able to find a place of peace and enlightenment from the voyages of folks like Scotty, Captain Kirk, Captian Picard, Geordi LaForge, Miles O’Brian, Tripp Tucker, Drs. McCoy and Crusher. I feel like a little piece of my childhood has been snuffed so much like an unattended cigar and I fear that no one who is in a position to do anything about it really cares all that much because trying to get back to Gene’s vision won’t buy them a new yacht.
So I guess I’ll let those younger than me relish lens flares, over done visual effects and heartless stories with no emotional or intellectual depth. They can boldly go where most people go on a daily basis. As for me, I’ll keep re-watching the old shows and revel in the memories of what Star Trek used to be; formative, informative, enlightening, moving and unafraid to challenge what has become status quo in the world.